Miscellaneous Factoid

I didn’t realize that the music from “Vertigo” was the finale from “Die Gotterdammerung” by Richard Wagner. “Vertigo” is the ghost story with Kim Novak, right? Yes, I’m listening to Wagner at my desk. Although now it’s actually “Different Drum” by Frog Holler playing.

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  1. The score was by Bernard Herrmann who also did the music for Psycho, North by Northwest and far too many others to list here.

    I don’t remember Wagner being used, but I could be wrong.

  2. This from Wikipedia:

    His score for Vertigo is just as masterful. In many of the key scenes Hitchcock essentially gave the film over to Herrmann, whose melodies, echoing Richard Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, dramatically conveys Scotty’s obsessive love for the woman he imagines to be Madeleine.

  3. Uncle Bill – they don’t “echo” at all – I’m confident it’s the exact same track. My track listing says it’s Die blah blah blah, WWV86D: Finale, whatever that means.

  4. From:


    Vertigo, newly re-released after its recent restoration and allowing viewers to hear for the first time the long-lost stereo masters of Herrmann’s magnificent score, shows Herrmann and Hitchcock at their personal best. Unlike many other directors of his time, Hitchcock understood the power of music in heightening tension where dialogue could not, and he gave Herrmann huge creative leeway to orchestrate certain moods (so much so, that Herrmann would often visit the set to give his input and would sometimes even compose the score before the first scene had been shot). In the opening sequence of Vertigo, Herrmann’s music does all the talking — Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), a San Francisco detective, chases a crook across a building roof, then falls, revealing his terrifying fear of heights. Barely a word is uttered in this sequence, but Herrmann’s music, with its discomforting juxtaposition of fleeing violins, floating harp, and braying brass, conveys a sense of life-threatening danger as Scottie dangles high above the ground.

    With a tongue-in-cheek nod to the violent brassiness of the first musical interlude, the next sequence opens with an airy, upbeat tune (Mozart, taken at an artificially jacked-up clip) on the record player in the studio of Scottie’s no-nonsense former fiancée, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). As Scottie and Midge talk about his acrophobia, he urges her to take off the record. Though he doesn’t specify, it is implied that Scottie’s impression of this music is that it’s too mechanically chipper, superficial, canned — a bit like Midge herself, the woman he eventually abandons to pursue his fantasy in Madeleine (Kim Novak), the mysterious wife of an old friend.

    As Vertigo progresses, several short musical pieces come to signal the different psychological moods of the film: there is Madeleine/ Carlotta/ Judy’s theme, a habanera woven into two rhythms — one for strings, a rising and falling rhythm invoking mystery; the other, a repeating melody for harp, invoking romance. This theme is heard when Scottie sees Madeleine for the first time. Scottie’s theme of obsessive longing is a moody music of trance, a swelling ostinato that recalls Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, another tale of obsessive love that was a personal favorite of Herrmann’s. It reaches its climax, its full bloom, in the extended scene where Scottie’s romantic illusions about Madeleine and Judy are at last resurrected and realized.

    Midge’s theme involves the use of consonant recordings onscreen. As Scottie recuperates from Madeleine’s death in the hospital, Midge brings a series of frilly Mozart records to play, in the hopes that they will be rehabilitative — “sweep the cobwebs away” like a musical Hoover. She urges him to “please try to let the music reach you,” but to no avail. He’s like a junkie in withdrawal, in need of a fix of discord and high drama. While Midge’s music is that of an almost relentless sensibility, the doctor suggests to her that Scottie is suffering from acute melancholia; he will ultimately need to be cured with his own tortured musical theme.

    Finally, there is the theme of release and death, as used in the opening sequence and at the more deadly intervals throughout, including during Scottie’s nightmare (which also invokes the Carlotta castanets). This theme spares no orchestral expense as his beloved falls to booming and crashing sounds, hysterical brass and timpani.

    Vertigo was panned by critics in the United States (Herrmann was
    known to have said with his characteristic curmudgeonly wit, “We liked
    it, but even in the States people thought [vertigo] was a backache or something.”) But the film has come to be appreciated as one of Hitchcock’s and Herrmann’s fit collaborations.

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